This column is Part II of a continued comparison of the best movies that the year 2003 and it's 10-year senior, 2013, have to offer. Check out last week's piece for the beginning of the bout, which looked at the Best Action Movie and Best Animated Movie! Round 3: Best Comedy Movie
2003: Old School Elf Bruce Almighty Matchstick Men Duplex
Recap: 2003 brought some of the most notable comedies of their respective sub-genres; Old School is considered by many to be the modern-day Animal House, and Elf is a now an absolute staple for me during the holiday season. The year was obviously part of the Will-Ferrell-owns-everything era, with little else but an enthusiastic Jim Carrey performance in Bruce Almighty being notable. Nicholas Cage's tick-afflicted con man in Matchstick Men (and Sam Rockwell, of course) was a unique Ridley Scott movie, Duplex was a deliciously dark comedy from the mind of Danny Devito, but all-in-all, only one other film that year could outshine the Frat Pack, and it's a main contender...
2013: This Is The End The World's End We're The Millers The Heat Don Jon Bad Grandpa
Recap: It didn't necessarily feel like it, but 2013 was a helluva year for laughing at the movies. Apocalyptic party flick, This Is The End, proved that Seth Rogen and the crew can go to toe-to-toe with genre-benders Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, & Edgar Wright, who also took on The World's End. Jennifer Aniston showed her explicit side in the surprisingly-hilarious We're The Millers. Sandra Bullock also dropped some F-bombs last year with The Heat. Joseph Gordon Levitt wrote, directed, and starred the hell out of a taboo subject with Don Jon, and even Johnny Knoxville made a box-office splash with Bad Grandpa. And I didn't even mention Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues or The Hangover Part III. Great year.
Main Event: Bad Santa (2003) vs. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Tale of the Tape: Our main event is a competitive exercise in irreverence. 2003's Bad Santa holds a similar place in my heart as Elf, but on the complete opposite end of the psyche. Billy Bob Thornton owns the role of Willie as only he can, chain-smoking and binge-drinking his way through the anti-hero journey. Bad Santa is just as offensive as it is heartwarming, and I cannot think of many other films that nail a difficult balance of tone so perfectly.
One of those other films I am alluding to is 2013's polarizing award-winner, The Wolf of Wall Street. The people that didn't like this movie probably didn't know it was a comedy. Martin Scorcese and Leonardo DiCaprio manage to make the audience care and even empathize with the real-life swindling sleaze bag, Jordan Belfort. That is a true achievement in and of itself, but the movie is also laugh-out-loud hilarious, with Leo proving that he's just as gifted a physical comedian as he is one of the best, most charismatic, transformative actors of his generation. It may sound like hyperbole, but DiCaprio is really that good in Wolf, and it will stand the test of time for his performance.
Winner: In a coke and quaalude-fueled marathon match, The Wolf of Wall Street takes down Bad Santa in a split decision.
Round 4: Best Sci-Fi Movie
2003: X2: X-Men United Matrix Revolutions 28 Days Later Hulk Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Recap: What a year for fans of the sci-fi genre; we got not one, but 2 Matrix films! What does it matter that neither lived up to the compelling brilliance of the original, more is better. Add to that a pretty damn decent X-Men sequel, a low-budget horror done right in 28 Days Later, and Ahhnold's most recent turn as the iconic T-800. I have no idea what Ang Lee was thinking with Hulk, but that happened. In any case, 2003 was a watershed moment for special effects and computer-generated imagery, mostly brought on by the Wachowski brothers.
2013: Star Trek Into Darkness Iron Man 3 Oblivion Elysium Pacific Rim
Recap: The advent of special effects has exploded over the past decade, and 2013 has been the culmination of that surge. Marvel followed up their excellent 2012 hallmark, The Avengers, with the very good Iron Man 3, which tackled subjects like PTSD and retribution in addition to its CGI-driven action scenes. We also got the second J.J Abrams entry into the Star Trek franchise, which also took a bit darker turn from its predecessor. When you consider ambitious fare that was ultimately good-but-almost-great, like Tom Cruise's Oblivion or Matt Damon's Elysium, 2013 could not have gotten much better... unless you consider its movie of the year...
Main Event: Matrix Reloaded (2003) vs. Gravity (2013)
Tale of the Tape: For sure, Matrix Reloaded was an awesome ride. With several memorable action sequences and envelope-pushing special effects, Reloaded raised the bar for action and sci-fi movies alike. Due to its cultural significance, it was as prolific as its predecessor, though definitely not as thought-provoking. After Revolutions came to theaters later that year, it became evident that The Matrix Trilogy may not have left the unique impact its fans would have liked, but it was a solid trilogy nonetheless.
Gravity, however, is in a singular class on its own. I referred to this movie in a previous article as "a monumental achievement in cinema," and I stand by that. Gravity, especially in IMAX 3D, was a visceral experience unlike anything I have ever encountered at the cinema. The closest I've come to the simultaneous wonder mixed with sheer terror is as an 8-year-old boy seeing Jurassic Park for the first time. If that's not high praise, I don't know what is.
Winner: Like a hull being breached in zero-gravity, Gravity knocks the wind right out of Matrix Reloaded. KO, no contest. Gravity wins.
So for those keeping score at home, we are in a deadlock heading into the third and final chapter of this battle of the decade:
Best Action Movie: Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) Best Animated Movie: Finding Nemo (2003) Best Comedy Movie: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Best Sci-Fi Movie: Gravity (2013)
Will new flicks and modern moviemaking techniques prevail, or like a fine wine, will the "classics" ring truer? Tune in next week when we take a look at the tie-breaking categories, Best Drama and Best Romance!